LAFAYETTE, La. – It’s a tragedy that can be prevented. Still, up to 3,000 children suffer Shaken Baby Syndrome in the US each year. About 80 percent of them suffer permanent damage. One fourth of that number die, the Centers for Disease Control reports.
Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s & Children’s Hospital is helping raise awareness this May by participating in the Purple Cry program through DontShake.org. Each newborn and child below age 2 discharged during the month of May will receive information on Shaken Baby Syndrome and a purple hat handmade by St. Thomas More High School students, Steps to Heaven in Abbeville, and other volunteers from across Acadiana.
The purple is significant. PURPLE is an acronym that explains the different stages of crying during the first few months of a baby’s life:
Peak: Crying peaks in the second month for many infants, decreasing by the third or fifth month.
Unexpected: Often, the crying is unexpected and cannot be explained.
Resistant: The infant may be resistant to soothing.
Pain: The infant’s face may look like he/she is in pain, even when not crying.
Long-lasting: Crying is long-lasting, up to five hours a day or more.
Evening: Most cry during the late afternoon or evening.
DontShake.org refers to the timeframe as the “Period of PURPLE Crying,” to emphasize there is an end to this stage. States participating in the Purple Cry program report an average 74 percent decrease in the number of hospital admissions related to Shaken Baby Syndrome, the site indicates.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is caused by the “violent shaking” of an infant, causing the brain to move back-and-forth inside the skull, explained Pediatrix-affiliated neonatologist Dr. Amy Zeringue, medical director for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s & Children’s Hospital.
“A baby’s brain is very fragile,” Dr. Zeringue said. “This back-and-forth movement can lead to swelling or bleeding in the brain and a lack of oxygen to the brain resulting in brain damage.” Effects can be either short- or long-term, such as seizures, cerebral palsy, blindness, hearing loss, learning and behavioral problems, paralysis and death, she said.
Children impacted by Shaken Baby Syndrome may not exhibit visible symptoms other than bruising or swelling, Dr. Zeringue said. Typical symptoms include increased sleepiness, difficulty eating or breathing, and vomiting. The baby may become very stiff or limp like a rag doll, she said.
“Being a parent is difficult, whether it’s your first or your fifth child,” Dr. Zeringue noted. “Dealing with your baby’s excessive crying can be frustrating, especially while recovering from childbirth, fatigue from frequent feedings, sleepless nights, and possible postpartum depression.”
“It’s important to know that babies go through a stage where they cry often, even if they have been fed, changed, and are not ill. This can be normal,” Dr. Zeringue continued. “If you are having a hard time and find yourself getting frustrated, don’t shake. Instead, put the baby in a safe place like a crib, walk away, and take a break for a few minutes. Also, do not be afraid to ask for help from friends and family.”